Parents often wonder when it is appropriate for their child or teenager to switch seats in the front seat, depending on age and height/weight limits set by car seat manufacturers. Children and teenagers should remain seated backwards until age 8 or until reaching height/weight restrictions set by them.
If children do sit in the front seat, be sure to disable the airbag and move their seat as far back as possible to reduce injuries caused by airbag deployment. Airbag injuries are serious risks for young children.
1. They’re at least five feet tall
Kids riding in front seats are at increased risk of injury. Airbags were designed to protect adults who were 5 feet tall and 150 pounds, so if a child is much smaller they may suffer serious injury in an accident. Their bones have yet to fully develop so their injuries could be more profound.
To ensure their own safety, children should only ride in the front seat if they pass the five-step test and meet age requirements. Even then, they shouldn’t get too close to the airbag and should use a booster seat so their adult-sized seat belt fits correctly – otherwise there could be risks such as brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, whiplash injuries and heart damage when children ride too early in front seat vehicles.
2. They’re at least 150 pounds
While riding shotgun may once have been seen as a rite of passage for children, it is now considered extremely risky for them to sit up front due to passenger-side airbags being designed specifically for adults weighing at least 150 pounds – if a child were allowed in front their force could send them into either dashboard or window during an accident, potentially injuring or killing them.
Many states in the US, such as California, Georgia, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Tennessee, New Jersey and Puerto Rico require children under eight years to remain rear-facing car safety seats or belt-positioning booster seats until they reach either height or weight limits for those seats. This ensures their seat belt fits appropriately and they’re prepared to move up into front-seat seating when ready.
3. They’re at least 12 years old
Once children reach 12 years of age, they can move into the front seat without assistance from an adult; however, they still must wear a seat belt properly and move their seat as far back as possible from where an airbag could deploy.
If children under that age are left in front seats prior to reaching 12 years of age, they could sustain serious injuries in a crash due to passenger-side airbags designed for adults causing significant harm to them.
Children may also be at greater risk of injury from seat belts themselves due to less developed iliac crests which cause it to ride up over their stomach, leading to dangerous condition known as seat belt syndrome.
4. They’re wearing a seat belt
Child car seats should not be replaced before reaching 13 years of age as this allows protection in case their airbag goes off during an accident.
Children transitioning into a front seat should use a harness-style booster seat, where their back and bottom rest flat against the seat while their shoulder belt fits across their mid chest and shoulders, and their lap belt snugs low against their upper thighs.
Airbags were designed with adults in mind and should never be used on children who are too short for the seat belt or who lean and wriggle during an accident. If necessary, disable passenger side airbag in vehicles which feature this feature if placing kids in front seats with airbags.
5. They’re using a car seat
Car seats offer children their best protection in case of an accident, even after outgrowing their original seat. Even once outgrown, children should remain in the back until they can move up front using appropriate restraint systems.
Airbag injuries are all too often experienced by children riding in front seats without first being buckled in properly, which puts them at serious risk if an airbag deploys and hits them directly in either their chest or head.
Children can transition into riding in front using a booster when their back and bottom are flush against the seat, the shoulder belt fits across their middle chest and shoulders, and their lap belt fits low over their hips. Any child under 13 must still ride in the rear seat.
Chris is a passionate learner and writer. When he’s not working on his blog or learning something new, he’s a full-time systems administrator and father of two beautiful girls. Chris loves spending time with his family, reading, writing, and playing hockey.